As a rule, establishments that prefix their name with ‘Ye Olde’ are anything but old. Who but the most gullible – or the most irony loving – tourist would fall for the charms of ‘Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe’ or ‘Ye Olde Pizza Parlour’? Yet, for all our sophistication, there is one institution that owes at least some of its popularity to its penchant for anachronism and bogus antiquity: the English pub. Unsurprisingly, therefore, many a landlord has attempted to bolster the historic credentials of his alehouse by adopting a cliché of pseudo-archaic language.
There are, nevertheless, a few genuinely ancient pubs that may use the term with impunity. One such place is Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, of 145 Fleet Street. Situated a few yards from Dr Johnson’s House in Gough Square, the pub occupies a seventeenth-century building and some even older vaults. There is one bar upstairs, in a dingy flagstoned room with antiquated wooden panelling. Downstairs through the gloomy vaults is another bar, which is host to most of the establishment’s seating. Naturally, it is decorated with engravings of the various venerable historic personages who ‘may’ have drunk in the place at one time or another.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is owned by Samuel Smith’s, the brewery from Tadcaster in Yorkshire, and serves a large selection of lagers, stouts, beers, and ales. However, real ale fanatics should be warned that, aside from the perfectly respectable Best Bitter, nothing is served from the cask. As with all Samuel Smith’s pubs, the prices are extremely reasonable, and the beverages are tasty and attractively branded.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese can be proud of the fact that it sells pint of decent bitter for £1.99 in a historic pub with a central London location. However, it ought to be ashamed of its food. All meals are microwaved or fried, and the pie I ordered was almost as good as those served at football grounds around the country.